Aleksej Pokuševski was born in Belgrade and grew up in Novi Sad, Serbia. He played for local youth teams in Novi Sad where his dad, Saša, is a basketball coach. In 2015, at just 13 years old, he moved to Olympiacos in Athens, Greece after someone at the club saw a video of him online. Olympiacos is a Euroleague staple and one of the most successful clubs in Europe. He was around 6’ 9” at age 15 but his skill with the ball warranted his development as a guard and a playmaker from the time he arrived in Athens. Pokuševski is a native Serbian speaker, but he has learned Greek and English since moving to Athens.
In 2019-2020, the Olympiacos senior team competed only in Euroleague while the team in the second division was used for development because of a dispute with the Greek league. The level of A2 was much more manageable for Pokuševski, he was one of the best players on the development team which was still made up of players older than him. He played 23 minutes per game, leading the team in rebounds, blocks, and steals and finishing 4th in scoring, with 10.8 points per game. The team finished 17-5 but they were 10-1 in games that Pokuševski played in.
In the first two games at the 2019 U18 European Championships, Pokuševski combined for 28 points, 23 rebounds, 11 assists, 12 blocks, and 5 steals. However, he struggled after his hot start, and saw his minutes fall from to 22 and 6 before sitting out the final game of the tournament due to a shoulder injury. What he showed in just the first couple games was enough to solidify his spot as a top international prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Olympiacos is rumored to have set his buyout between 1 and 3 million dollars depending on where he is selected, with the number likely much closer to the low end assuming he isn’t taken in the lottery.
Pokuševski is visibly weak and doesn’t have much functional strength on the court. He has a solid base and a decently strong lower body but his frame is thin and long and his shoulders are narrow. He will never have an extremely muscular body or be somebody with exceptional strength. Despite his less than optimal frame, he will have to put on weight. How successful he is in doing so will be an important factor in his development.
While out with injury this season, Pokuševski was able to put on some weight and significantly improve his agility and core. It has been difficult for him to gain weight because of his practice load and the amount of food he needs to eat.
Pokuševski is a very impressive mover for his size. He’s a very good jumper, with a solid second jump. He is not super fast in the open court but he has good, quick footwork and impressive lateral movement for a player of his size.
NBA Global Camp June 2018 (16y 6m)
Height w/o shoes: 6′ 11″
Height w/ shoes: 7′
Wingspan: 7′ 3.25″
Standing Reach: 9′ 1.5″
No-step vert: 26″
Max vert: 31″
BWB Europe August 2018 (16y 8m)
Height w/o shoes: 6′ 11″
Weight: 196 pounds
Wingspan: 7′ 3″
No-step vert: 28″
Max vert: 33″
Pokuševski’s frame and injury concerns will certainly make his medicals a top priority for prospective teams. He suffered a knee hypertension in November 2019 that kept him out for 3 months – although he was practicing well before he returned – in addition to his shoulder injury over the summer.
He also seemed to have a recurring issue with landing on just his left foot at the 2019 U18 tournament. It wasn’t only on jumpshots, it also happen when jumping in other situations such as rebound or blocks. No one I spoke with was able to identify the cause of him favoring one leg or if it was related to his knee hypertension during the following season.
Because of his youth and lack of minutes in the top tiers of pro basketball, Pokuševski only has stats on record from 34 games, between two FIBA youth tournaments, two trips to ANGT, and his abbreviated season with the Olympiacos development team. He has taken 126 threes in that time making 41 (32.5%) of them. The sample size is still very limited but his numbers have trended up and are very encouraging for his age. He seemed to make a significant jump between the U17 World Cup in July 2018 and ANGT in February 2019. From that tournament on, he’s shooting 36/94 (38.3%) from three over 24 games, as well as 41/55 (74.5%) from the free throw line.
Pokuševski shoots a quick, on balance shot with a high release point. He dips the ball and kicks his feet forward. He releases even quicker with a defender near him, sometimes rushing too much and not following through. His range goes out to the NBA line and beyond on set shots. On deeper shots, he dips the ball more and his release is a little slower. Pokuševski has a solid, consistent base from 3-point range, even on deeper shots which is a great sign for his NBA shooting projection.
Despite shot selection and consistency issues, Pokuševski’s movement shooting is one of the most intriguing parts of his game. As a 7-footer who is already comfortable coming off of screens and shooting off the dribble, he can create a lot of problems for the defense. His most off-balance shots from movement can produce awkward looks and bad misses but he’s getting better about staying on balance. Even on the bad looks, it’s obvious that Pokuševski’s movement shooting has potential to be a serious threat and a rare, valuable skill to have in a 7-footer.
I think he knows very well how to use screen for the buckets. pic.twitter.com/m2asOytks1— Kuzey Kılıç (@Kuzeykg) July 27, 2020
Finishing around the rim is a major issue for Pokuševski. His touch is inconsistent and gets significantly worse with any kind of contact. At times, he seems to simply overestimate his leaping ability and end up short of the rim. One way he has avoided contact in the past is by shooting floaters but his touch is not very good there, he shoots them flat and hard at the rim.
Pokuševski made strides improving his finishing ability during the 2019-2020 season with Olympiacos. He was much more disciplined and he did a much better job adapting and reacting to the defense. He still does not finish well with contact but he has improved greatly at avoiding contact altogether and has great body control to continue to improve here.
Pokuševski doesn’t have much trouble dribbling with either hand. He has a solid hesitation move and uses change of pace as well as behind the backs and crossovers to get to his spots. He has to get stronger to use his low center of gravity to handle more physical defense. As fluid as his handle is, he can easily lose the ball or struggle to get to spots when a defender plays him physically. If he can’t add lower body strength, he will have a hard time getting to the paint off the dribble.
Pokuševski is an impressive passer on the move. He draws help and hits the open man from the dribble. His one-hand live dribble pass with his right hand to his right is good. When he throws it across his body it floats a lot but it’s fairly accurate. This skill is very rare for a player of his size at any age but it seems to be second nature for him, and something he has built on in recent years.
If he’s forced to pick up his dribble, he typically has a size advantage that allows him to pass over the defense. He can do this around the 3-point line when he’s doubled but he most frequently passes over the top of the defense when he drives in the paint. His size and ability to get to the paint off the dribble draws a lot of help and gets him out of the bad situations he can get himself into. Pokuševski is a great ball mover from the perimeter and the paint. He has quick decision-making after receiving a pass.
In transition, Pokuševski frequently goes to a quick wraparound behind the back. He uses it in tight spaces to get in space and take advantage of his long strides in the open court. While he’s a good passer in transition, he isn’t afraid to go to the rim where he has good body control and finishing. He throws very impressive, accurate outlet passes the length of the court to start the break. If he starts behind the defense, he won’t try to run ahead, instead waiting to come up for a trailing 3.
Because of his positional size, Pokuševski gets much smaller defenders on him and draws double teams when he’s in the post. If he has enough of a size advantage, he will back down from as far as the 3-point line to create opportunities to pass out of the post. He can’t score effectively there, even struggling on much smaller defenders, but his positional size demands help and allows him to see over the defense. He throws great passes across the court and he has a unique ability to throw short passes over the defense to teammates right around the rim.
On the ball, Pokuševski is typically guarding smaller players, using his length well in these matchups. He does a solid job of containing smaller guards, despite a quickness disadvantage, which is made easier by using his length to give enough space to still beat them to spots. When his man does get by him off the dribble, he does a great job of affecting, or discouraging, shots at the rim. He doesn’t go for too many fakes as a primary defender. Because of his high standing reach and decent quickness off the ground. He can afford to be the second to leave the floor and still get to the ball, rising quickly off of one foot on the run.
Finally getting around to posting some scouting reports from April over the next few days, mostly just organizing clips now.— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) November 15, 2020
Best 10 seconds to encapsulate the Poku experience: bad switch -> insane recovery to avoid the rim and block the shot -> too ambitious with the ball. pic.twitter.com/9HDdQZvlHj
As he moves up to the G-league and NBA, he will face guards and wings who aren’t as overwhelmed by a 7-footer who can move. Who he guards and how he guards them will largely be determined by the progress of his body and athleticism. As he continues to improve athletically, he should have a quickness advantage over a lot of 4s at the NBA level.
However, unless he adds significant weight, Pokuševski will still have an exploitable strength disadvantage that may leave him guarding 3s. He uses his 9’+ standing reach well around the rim, but as the primary defender his lack of strength makes it very difficult for him to prevent opponents from getting to their spots, especially down low.
If he is able to add strength without losing athleticism, and be more focused on the defensive end, Pokuševski could be an impressive on-ball defender with positional size and versatility that is so vital in today’s game.
Pokuševski does a good job of using his size advantage at the rim. He’s an excellent shot blocker from help defense, where he is always looking for a chance to protect the rim. He takes a lot of chances one pass away on the perimeter as well. When he doesn’t get to the ball he takes a while to get back in the play and is way out of position. However, his instincts and ability to get his hands on the ball in help defense are impressive. He has a natural feel for where to be on defense to make plays. That’s not to say that he can read the offense, but he doesn’t concern himself with what the offense is doing and just relies on his instinct.
His length is useful for helping on drives from the perimeter. However, when he overhelps, he has to close out from too far to recover. His close-out footwork is poor, making him more prone to blow-bys. He frequently takes plays off or watches screens happen without the awareness to help his teammates cover them. Despite being one of the biggest players on the court, he isn’t concerned about crashing the boards, usually preferring to leak out. Pokuševski has trouble staying locked in on the defensive end in general. The frequency that he gives up easy drives to the rim is concerning for a player that can be so vital to a team’s defensive success. His inconsistent focus is concerning at the NBA level, where any mental lapse will be punished. He has a long way to go here.
Pokuševski sees himself as a guard and prefers to develop as one. His handle is very impressive for his size, but not as much for an NBA guard. He will have to work to adapt to the speed and strength of NBA defenders. That doesn’t mean he can’t improve his handle to be a true guard. His vision is very impressive and he has the touch to throw passes over the defense, as well as a wide range of live dribble passes. If he continues to make improvements as a playmaker, Pokuševski has unique potential as a 7-foot matchup nightmare at every level of the court.
While he is not ready to be a primary, or even secondary, playmaker on the NBA level, he can still find ways to contribute offensively. His shot is coming along well, and his versatile shotmaking allows him to shoot with volume. He can take his man to the post and force rotations or get to the paint on one or two dribbles and pass over the defense.
Projecting Pokuševski’s role defensively is difficult because of the disparity in positional fit on the ball and off the ball. His length and team defense around the perimeter is valuable but it’s impossible to have the same effect there that the effect he has around the rim where he’s an excellent shot blocker.
However, he is most comfortable guarding wings and if he never becomes a big man defender, that’s likely to be his role going forward. Because of his poor close-out footwork and tendency to overhelp he may still struggle early on, especially against a better shooter, but he is less of a liability on the perimeter. He has the potential to develop into an elite 2-5 defender everywhere on the court. His length and shot blocking will be best utilized if he is near the paint more, primarily on bigger matchups, and his quickness will allow him to handle switches to every position.
Aleksej Pokuševski is still very much a project. He has plenty to round out on both sides of the ball but the framework of a very high level NBA player is there. He is the youngest player in this draft, almost a full year younger than Deni Avdija. Pokuševski will probably need a couple years before he can make an impact at the NBA level. One concern is his lack of effort at times. Many wonder if he truly has the passion it takes for him to become the player that he could be. However, those same questions were also asked about fellow Serbian big man, Nikola Jokić. In fact, there are some around the league who still wonder if Jokić truly loves the game today. Yet, he’s become an All-Star and recently led his team to the Western Conference Finals.
There is plenty of risk associated with drafting Pokuševski, the potential reward is higher than all but a few 2020 prospects.